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Baking Tips

Baking Tips: written by Pastryitems.com (copyright 2014)


Fun In The Kitchen With Dust On Your Nose: 

​Baking is a rewarding skill to master. Nothing makes a house more homey that the alluring aroma of fresh baked bread or a batch of homemade cookies right out of the oven. No gift shows you care more than delicious home baked goodies. When the final product comes out of the oven, it is heart-warming to watch your family and friends eagerly gobble down your latest masterpiece and later hear them rave about how scrumptious it was. And>>. nothing brings a family closer than bringing together the younger generations and the older generations in the kitchen to pass down baking secrets and techniques. 

Baking is a blend of science and art. While practice makes perfect, if you learn some of the basics, your learning curve will be much faster. Below, you will find a list of baking tips for both the beginner baker and intermediate baker as well. Many of these tips have been passe down from our Great-Great Grandmothers while others have been made possible by modern technological improvements such as the oven thermometer and electric blender. 


How To Cream Butter And Sugar

Truly delicious cakes do not come out of a box! To create a layered mouth-watering masterpiece, you will need to learn how to bake a cake from scratch. To do this, it is essential you learn the fine art of creaming butter. Keep this in mind: the number one goal of creaming butter is to aerate it, i.e. you want to add air bubbles into the butter. The more you aerate the butter, the lighter the cake will be and the more it will rise. Plus, the number of compliments you get on your cake will be roughly proportional to the time you take to cream the butter properly. Hopefully, this impresses upon you how truly important this step is. You want to start with fully softened butter. Cold butter, or even butter that isn't fully softened, will not aerate as well no matter how well you blend it. To fully soften butter, leave it out of the refrigerator at least an hour. If you have a cool house, you may need to place the butter near a warm, not hot, source such as your oven's pilot light or warm lamp bulb. it is important that you don't get into a hurry on this step. Take your time and blend the butter with an electric mixer for at least five minutes. You can go ten minuted if you have the time and patience. Stop about every minute and use a flexible spatula to rake the batter off the sides of the bowl and into the middle before you start blending again. Even if the recipe says to "blend the butter and sugar together," do not add the sugar until you have blended the butter for at least five minutes. This is because you will not be able to add as much air once you add the sugar. After you add the sugar, blend butter and sugar together for at least another three minutes before you gradually add your eggs (if your recipe calls for them) and dry ingredients. Of course, if it is possible to cream butter with a wooden spoon but don't be surprised if your biceps are sore the next day if you attempt it. Also, no matter how much muscle power you apply, you'll never be able to aerate the butter as well with a wooden spoon as when you use a blender. This is a good example where modern technology has made things better.

By the way, the next time you are traveling near a pioneer museum, take the time to stop in and ask to see the old-timey kitchen utensils. There will likely be a hand cranked beater in the collection. Ask the museum staff if they will let you try our this archaic kitchen tool. The experience will give you a new found appreciation for the electric beater that we all take for granted now. On the other end of the mixing spectrum, the next time you are in your favorite bakery ask if you can peek into their kitchen. If you've never seen it before, you will be duly impressed by the power of the machine-automated industrial strength mixing equipment they have to aerate their butter! This is one of the reasons cakes from bakeries taste so good. 


Always Use A Good Oven Thermometer When You Bake:

Oven temperatures vary by more than you probably realize. Therefore, when preheating the oven, you should never rely solely on your oven's temperature reading. This is true even if you have a digitally controlled oven instead of the less accurate hand-dial. It is well worth the money to buy a good oven thermometer and adjust your oven's temperature settings until you achieve precisely the baking temperature called form in your recipe. If you notice your oven temperature varying a bit over time, there is a trick you can use to level this out. Buy a ceramic pizza stone and keep it in your oven at all times. Once this is hot, it will radiate heat and help keep temperature inside your oven more constant. For a cheaper solution, you can also use an unglazed ceramic tile in your oven. These can be picked up at most hardware stores. Another tip is to always placed your cakes and breads right at the center of the oven as this will be the most constant temperature spot in your oven. Of course, it is the right of every baker to complain about their oven not being calibrated properly, not circulating the heat in a perfectly uniform manner, or varying in temperature five to ten degrees throughout the baking process. In fact, persnickety people sometimes make the best bakers. However, before you go too far in bashing your oven, don't forget what our pioneer ancestors had to contend with. All they had to bake a cake was a wooden stove with no thermostat. What little control they had over the oven temperature was achieved by adjusting the flume and/or adding more wood. Just think how impressed they would have been by even the most humble apartment-sized modern stove! So, grumble if you must but don't forget to count your blessings too! 


Let's Talk About The Different Types Of Flour Used In Baking:

Cake flour, pastry flour, bread flour, and all-purpose flour may all look about the same to the untrained eye but they are not all the same. Further, your baked goods will turn out very differently depending on which type of flour you use. The primary difference between different types of flour is the amount of protein they contain. The more protein a flour contains, the more gluten it has. You can thin k of cake flour and bread flour being on the opposite ends of the gluten scale, with pastry flour and all-purpose flour in the middle. Depending on the exact source, cake flour has between 7.5 to 9 percent gluten and will appear extremely fine textured. bread flour has between 13 and 14 percent gluten and will appear noticeably coarser than cake flour.  Pastry flour has approximately 9 to 10 percent gluten while all-purpose flour usually contains about 12 percent gluten. Now, why does it matter how much gluten a flour has? It has to do with texture and structure. When flour based dough is stirred or kneaded, the gluten becomes more elastic and tough. this is why bread flour, containing the highest amounts of gluten, is sometimes called "strong flour." It is also what gives bread its characteristic texture. Cake flour, on the other hand, has far less gluten so there is less elasticity in the texture of a cake made with cake flour. Good bakers know that the key to superb light and fluffy angel food cake is using flour with an extra low gluten content. Otherwise, it will turn out too heavy. Still, with gluten-free flours, it is hard to bake a cake that retains structure. On the other hand, if tried to bake a cake with strong bread flour, or even middle of the road all-purpose flour, it might turn out really tough and dense for a cake. For sheet cakes and regular layer cakes, some bakers prefer to use a brand of cake flour like King Arthur flour that contains a bit more gluten so the cake will hold up better to icing and decorations. Pastries like biscuits, pie crust, and pizza dough are usually made with pastry flour or all-purpose flour. You'll have to experiment a bit to discover your own personal preferences. Remember, baking is a blend of art and science, and as a baker, you are both artist and scientist rolled into one!


Should You Sift The Flour And Other Dry Ingredients:

Many people get in a hurry and skip over the instructions that say to sift the flour and other dry ingredients. They take one look at smoke signals their dusty flour is sending out into the kitchen air as they attempt to measure it into the bowl and say to themselves, "Why should I bother sifting this fine stuff?" Bottom line, you should never listen to this lazy little voice whispering in your ear to skip this step. If you do, the quality of your baked goods will

suffer. The primary purpose of sifting flour is not to take the lumps out or look for weevils as many people think. The primary purpose of sifting is to put air in your flour and other dry ingredients. More air equals better baked goods, plain and simple. Flour that has been packed in a bag and stored somewhere in a warehouse and then shoved in your cabinet with other heavy stuff sitting on top of it will not be light and airy. Your cake will not rise as well if you don't sift this overly packed flour and get some air molecules back into it. A Secondary purpose of sifting is to mix the dry ingredients better. As a substitute to sifting, some people whisk their flour and other ingredients with a wire whisk, just like you would whisk eggs. This works too but not quite as well as sifting. However, some bakers do both for good measure. "Good Cooks always make a mess." These were the words of wisdom often uttered by a Grandmother who knew her way around a kitchen. Flour, of course, would definitely be in the running for the world's messiest ingredient. You'll often find it on the tip of your nose and streaking through your hair when you bake.  The point here is that if you worry too much about making a mess, you may compromise the quality of your baked goods. So, sift or whisk that flour heartily and let the flour dust fly where it may! If you are making a special celebration cake or you want to serve fluffy flaky biscuits that melt in your mouth, you won't care once you see the satisfied looks on the faces of those who eat your aerated flour creations. 


Baking Soda Versus Baking Powder:

Have you ever wondered why banging the oven door when you close it or running through the house could make a cake in the oven fall? It is because of how the leavening agents (leavening agents make baked goods rise), baking soda and baking power, work. They perform their magic by producing carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the dough as it rises. If you cause a strong vibration too early in the baking process, you can actually knock the carbon dioxide bubbles out of the dough and the cake will fall as a result.​ Now, what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? It can be confusing to a beginning baker as to why some recipes call for baking soda as a leavening agent while others call for baking powder. These are both white odorless powders and thus look practically the same. However, the difference in chemistry between the two is of utmost importance. Baking powder is a chemical called sodium bicarbonate. When it is heated in the oven, it produces the carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the dough and make the bread, cake, and pizza dough, biscuits, brownies, or cookies rise. However, there's a downside to this magic that must be dealt with. As sodium Bicarbonate heats up, it also produces sodium carbonate which unfortunately has a terrible metallic taste! However, this metallic taste can be neutralized by adding one or more acidic ingredients to the recipe. In baking, the most common acidic ingredients include cream of tartar, buttermilk (or any form of soured milk), yogurt, natural cocoa powder, vinegar, and lemon juice. So, if you have a recipe that has just the right amounts of baking soda and one or more of the acidic ingredients listed, you won't have a metallic flavor and the chemical reactions will create a beautiful rise and wonderful texture in your baking goods. However, if you don't put enough acid, your baked goods may have a very noticeable metallic taste that makes you stick out your tongue and go "yuck!" Baking powder is baking soda with a dry acidic substance like cream of tartar added in. Modern baking powder usually also contains a moisture reducer like corn starch but it didn't when it was first mass produced and stored in bottles instead of cans. It has a longer shelf life with the corn starch added in. It should be noted that if you have baking powder in a recipe, you don't absolutely need to have one or more acidic ingredients. For Example, you could use regular milk instead of acidic buttermilk. You could also leave out the cream of tartar and/or vinegar. Baking powder originally became very popular because the amount of acidity in soured milk was so unpredictable. It was somewhat hit or miss as to how well baked goods would rise. Using baking powder gave more consistency to how well baked goods would rise. It should be noted that some recipes, usually those containing some form of acid like buttermilk, actually call for both baking soda and baking powder. This has long been a mystery to many bakers, even the most experienced ones. However, the purpose of using both is usually to just give a little extra rise in recipes that use the combination of baking soda and acid as the primary leavening agents.


Natural Cocoa Powder Versus Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder:

American recipes that call for "cocoa Powder" are usually referring to natural cocoa powder. However, most European recipes and many American recipes use a special kind of cocoa powder called Dutch-processed cocoa. it may also be referred to as "alkali chocolate powder" or "chocolate powder processed with alkali." Beginning bakers often think they can simply substitute one for the other but the chemistry between them is so different that a recipe can be ruined by doing so. Natural cocoa powder, produced by finely grinding roasted cocoa beans and removing about half the fat, is quite acidic. In recipes, it is often paired with baking soda as the leavening agent. In these cases, the cocoa powder itself serves as the acidic ingredient that counterbalances the metallic taste of the sodium carbonate during baking (see section above). However, in Dutch-processed cocoa powder, the acidity of the cocoa is removed by washing it in a potassium solution. This Dutching process mellows out the taste of the cocoa, completely removing any bitterness, and makes the cocoa powder much darker. If it is strongly Dutched, it is sometimes referred to as "black cocoa powder." However, Dutch-processed cocoa powder should not be confused with the term "dark chocolate" because the two have no relationship. "Dark chocolate" refers to a chocolate product with a very high percentage of cocoa solids (usually thirty-five percent or higher) relative to other ingredients like sugar and milk, not whether or not it the cocoa solids have been Dutched. The process of Dutching chocolate also make the resulting powder easier to emulsify in liquids. Did you know that pure chocolate has approximately eight times more types of healthy antioxidants than strawberries? Antioxidants destroy free radicals that damage the cardiovascular system and are largely responsible for the process of aging. Because of the high concentration and variety of antioxidants found in chocolate, moderate amounts of chocolate significantly lowers blood pressure, lowers bad cholesterol, and improves cognitive ability. Moreover, chocolate is one of the best sources for the flavonoid antioxidant called epicatechin. This flavonoid mimics insulin and, therefore, lowers blood sugar. Diabetics and others greatly benefit from the high levels of epicatechin and other antioxidants in the cocoa bean. However, the dutching process of cocoa powder destroys these healthy antioxidants! Studies have shown that even a light dutching process destroys sixty percent of the antioxidants of the cocoa bean. Heavy dutching destroys ninety percent. Therefore, if you want to retain the healthy benefits of chocolate, it would be better to bake with natural cocoa powder that Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Chocolate available here.


Notes About Buttermilk And Fresh Churned Butter In Baking:

Did you know that back in the 1800's what the pioneers referred to as "buttermilk" was actually butterless milk? It was the milk left over after churning milk into butter so most of the butter had actually been removed from the resulting liquid. Since older milk was usually used for churning, this butterless milk was also slightly sour-tasting due to the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria multiplying in the slightly older milk. Lactobacillus bacteria produce lactic acid as a byproduct and this is what made old-fashioned buttermilk acidic and what made the butterless milk proteins curdle. This thick heavenly liquid was the source of acid in old-fashioned buttermilk biscuit recipes that used baking soda as the leavening agent. However, the "buttermilk" we buy in the store today is actually very different. Most milk today is pasteurized, i.e. heated to a very high temperature to kill the pathogenic bacteria so prevalent on large commercial dairies today. However, pasteurization also kills the dozens of good lactobacillus species that naturally occur in clean organic milk from grass fed, i.e. pasture fed, cows. So, in order to make acidic "buttermilk" from modern pasteurized milk, good bacteria must be added back into the pasteurized milk in order to culture it and turn it acidic. However, instead of dozens of good lactobacillus species being added back in, food manufacturers usually only add two to five species. Keep in mind that "soured" milk before pasteurization did not mean spoiled milk like it does with pasteurized milk. While it had a sour taste, it was not spoiled in a sense that it had too many pathogenic bacteria to drink. Pathogenic bacteria in raw milk are kept at bay by the presence of dozens of good lactobacillus species. with the good bacteria killed in pasteurized milk, when milk starts to go bad, it is the few remaining bad bacteria that start to multiply. this is why we don't drink "soured" milk today unless we buy specially cultured buttermilk in the store. Soured pasteurized milk is spoiled milk. The modern form of cultured pasteurized milk, i.e. what is sold as "buttermilk" today, does not taste as good in baked goods nor does it have the same ability to work with baking soda tom give true old-fashioned biscuits their amazing fluffy texture. Therefore, if you want to make truly terrific buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk cornbread, buttermilk pancakes, or other "quick breads" (no kneading or rising required), you will need to find a source of high quality raw milk. To do so, talk with your local natural food stores and/or look for organic farms in your region that will sell you some raw milk. Once this milk starts to turn, you can use it to make some of the most delicious quick breads you have ever tasted. You can also churn your own butter to use in your baking. Cakes and brownies made with fresh churned butter made from fresh organic raw milk are so good they will inspire the musically gifted to write songs praising their virtues.


Pay Close Attention To Commas In Recipes:

Reading a recipe can be trickier than you may think! In fact, many a baking disaster has occured by misreading a recipe. In particular, commas can completely change the meaning of a recipe. If a comma is used on an ingredient line, this means to first measure the ingredient and then do what comes after the comma. 

Consider the following example:

#1.1 cup sifted flour

versus

#2.1 cup flour, sifted

In the first example, the baker should first sift the flour and then measure out a cup of this sifted flour. However, in the second example the baker should first measure out a cup of flour and then sift the flour. At this point, you may be scratching your head and asking, "Why does it matter?" It matters, and matters a lot, because there will be far less flour in the first example than in the second example. Once you sift the flour, this adds air and volume to the flour. Therefore, a cup of sifted flour will have less weight and less flour that a cup of non-sifted flour. In fact, while a cup of sifted flour weighs about 112 grams on the average (it will vary a bit depending on how much air has been added), a cup of non-sifted flour weighs about 140 grams (it will vary a bit depending on how densely packed it is). You may notice that many baking recipes now list dry ingredients in grams, not just volume. This is because you can be much more accurate in the amounts you use if you weigh the dry ingredients. For this reason, if you are serious about baking, you may want to invest in a good kitchen scale. 


Final Notes:

Baking is a joy in many ways. You get to eat the fruits of your labor and share them with others you love. You get to control the exact ingredients inn the baked goods you eat and serve yo your family and friends. This allows you to serve delicious food but keep it healthy at the same time. For example, there is no reason to add trans fat to a recipe! You can use natural cocoa powder instead of Dutch-processed cocoa powder. You also get to experiment with different recipes and make slight modifications to recipes you already have to make them even better. Finally, no matter how much you learn about baking there's always something new to learn, a new way to hone your baking skills even more. Here's one more precious nugget of information. If you are using fresh herbs like mint. sage. or chives in your baked goods, try rubbing them into the sugar to release their essential oils and then mixing them into your creamed butter. Fat is a fantastic flavor carrier and it will infuse the flavor of the essential oils throughout your baked goodies. You can do the same with fresh ground spices like cardamom, vanilla bean, and cinnamon.

Enjoy Your Baking! 

 



Baking Tips: written by Pastryitems.com (copyright 2014)


Fun In The Kitchen With Dust On Your Nose: 

​Baking is a rewarding skill to master. Nothing makes a house more homey that the alluring aroma of fresh baked bread or a batch of homemade cookies right out of the oven. No gift shows you care more than delicious home baked goodies. When the final product comes out of the oven, it is heart-warming to watch your family and friends eagerly gobble down your latest masterpiece and later hear them rave about how scrumptious it was. And>>. nothing brings a family closer than bringing together the younger generations and the older generations in the kitchen to pass down baking secrets and techniques. 

Baking is a blend of science and art. While practice makes perfect, if you learn some of the basics, your learning curve will be much faster. Below, you will find a list of baking tips for both the beginner baker and intermediate baker as well. Many of these tips have been passe down from our Great-Great Grandmothers while others have been made possible by modern technological improvements such as the oven thermometer and electric blender. 


How To Cream Butter And Sugar

Truly delicious cakes do not come out of a box! To create a layered mouth-watering masterpiece, you will need to learn how to bake a cake from scratch. To do this, it is essential you learn the fine art of creaming butter. Keep this in mind: the number one goal of creaming butter is to aerate it, i.e. you want to add air bubbles into the butter. The more you aerate the butter, the lighter the cake will be and the more it will rise. Plus, the number of compliments you get on your cake will be roughly proportional to the time you take to cream the butter properly. Hopefully, this impresses upon you how truly important this step is. You want to start with fully softened butter. Cold butter, or even butter that isn't fully softened, will not aerate as well no matter how well you blend it. To fully soften butter, leave it out of the refrigerator at least an hour. If you have a cool house, you may need to place the butter near a warm, not hot, source such as your oven's pilot light or warm lamp bulb. it is important that you don't get into a hurry on this step. Take your time and blend the butter with an electric mixer for at least five minutes. You can go ten minuted if you have the time and patience. Stop about every minute and use a flexible spatula to rake the batter off the sides of the bowl and into the middle before you start blending again. Even if the recipe says to "blend the butter and sugar together," do not add the sugar until you have blended the butter for at least five minutes. This is because you will not be able to add as much air once you add the sugar. After you add the sugar, blend butter and sugar together for at least another three minutes before you gradually add your eggs (if your recipe calls for them) and dry ingredients. Of course, if it is possible to cream butter with a wooden spoon but don't be surprised if your biceps are sore the next day if you attempt it. Also, no matter how much muscle power you apply, you'll never be able to aerate the butter as well with a wooden spoon as when you use a blender. This is a good example where modern technology has made things better.

By the way, the next time you are traveling near a pioneer museum, take the time to stop in and ask to see the old-timey kitchen utensils. There will likely be a hand cranked beater in the collection. Ask the museum staff if they will let you try our this archaic kitchen tool. The experience will give you a new found appreciation for the electric beater that we all take for granted now. On the other end of the mixing spectrum, the next time you are in your favorite bakery ask if you can peek into their kitchen. If you've never seen it before, you will be duly impressed by the power of the machine-automated industrial strength mixing equipment they have to aerate their butter! This is one of the reasons cakes from bakeries taste so good. 


Always Use A Good Oven Thermometer When You Bake:

Oven temperatures vary by more than you probably realize. Therefore, when preheating the oven, you should never rely solely on your oven's temperature reading. This is true even if you have a digitally controlled oven instead of the less accurate hand-dial. It is well worth the money to buy a good oven thermometer and adjust your oven's temperature settings until you achieve precisely the baking temperature called form in your recipe. If you notice your oven temperature varying a bit over time, there is a trick you can use to level this out. Buy a ceramic pizza stone and keep it in your oven at all times. Once this is hot, it will radiate heat and help keep temperature inside your oven more constant. For a cheaper solution, you can also use an unglazed ceramic tile in your oven. These can be picked up at most hardware stores. Another tip is to always placed your cakes and breads right at the center of the oven as this will be the most constant temperature spot in your oven. Of course, it is the right of every baker to complain about their oven not being calibrated properly, not circulating the heat in a perfectly uniform manner, or varying in temperature five to ten degrees throughout the baking process. In fact, persnickety people sometimes make the best bakers. However, before you go too far in bashing your oven, don't forget what our pioneer ancestors had to contend with. All they had to bake a cake was a wooden stove with no thermostat. What little control they had over the oven temperature was achieved by adjusting the flume and/or adding more wood. Just think how impressed they would have been by even the most humble apartment-sized modern stove! So, grumble if you must but don't forget to count your blessings too! 


Let's Talk About The Different Types Of Flour Used In Baking:

Cake flour, pastry flour, bread flour, and all-purpose flour may all look about the same to the untrained eye but they are not all the same. Further, your baked goods will turn out very differently depending on which type of flour you use. The primary difference between different types of flour is the amount of protein they contain. The more protein a flour contains, the more gluten it has. You can thin k of cake flour and bread flour being on the opposite ends of the gluten scale, with pastry flour and all-purpose flour in the middle. Depending on the exact source, cake flour has between 7.5 to 9 percent gluten and will appear extremely fine textured. bread flour has between 13 and 14 percent gluten and will appear noticeably coarser than cake flour.  Pastry flour has approximately 9 to 10 percent gluten while all-purpose flour usually contains about 12 percent gluten. Now, why does it matter how much gluten a flour has? It has to do with texture and structure. When flour based dough is stirred or kneaded, the gluten becomes more elastic and tough. this is why bread flour, containing the highest amounts of gluten, is sometimes called "strong flour." It is also what gives bread its characteristic texture. Cake flour, on the other hand, has far less gluten so there is less elasticity in the texture of a cake made with cake flour. Good bakers know that the key to superb light and fluffy angel food cake is using flour with an extra low gluten content. Otherwise, it will turn out too heavy. Still, with gluten-free flours, it is hard to bake a cake that retains structure. On the other hand, if tried to bake a cake with strong bread flour, or even middle of the road all-purpose flour, it might turn out really tough and dense for a cake. For sheet cakes and regular layer cakes, some bakers prefer to use a brand of cake flour like King Arthur flour that contains a bit more gluten so the cake will hold up better to icing and decorations. Pastries like biscuits, pie crust, and pizza dough are usually made with pastry flour or all-purpose flour. You'll have to experiment a bit to discover your own personal preferences. Remember, baking is a blend of art and science, and as a baker, you are both artist and scientist rolled into one!


Should You Sift The Flour And Other Dry Ingredients:

Many people get in a hurry and skip over the instructions that say to sift the flour and other dry ingredients. They take one look at smoke signals their dusty flour is sending out into the kitchen air as they attempt to measure it into the bowl and say to themselves, "Why should I bother sifting this fine stuff?" Bottom line, you should never listen to this lazy little voice whispering in your ear to skip this step. If you do, the quality of your baked goods will

suffer. The primary purpose of sifting flour is not to take the lumps out or look for weevils as many people think. The primary purpose of sifting is to put air in your flour and other dry ingredients. More air equals better baked goods, plain and simple. Flour that has been packed in a bag and stored somewhere in a warehouse and then shoved in your cabinet with other heavy stuff sitting on top of it will not be light and airy. Your cake will not rise as well if you don't sift this overly packed flour and get some air molecules back into it. A Secondary purpose of sifting is to mix the dry ingredients better. As a substitute to sifting, some people whisk their flour and other ingredients with a wire whisk, just like you would whisk eggs. This works too but not quite as well as sifting. However, some bakers do both for good measure. "Good Cooks always make a mess." These were the words of wisdom often uttered by a Grandmother who knew her way around a kitchen. Flour, of course, would definitely be in the running for the world's messiest ingredient. You'll often find it on the tip of your nose and streaking through your hair when you bake.  The point here is that if you worry too much about making a mess, you may compromise the quality of your baked goods. So, sift or whisk that flour heartily and let the flour dust fly where it may! If you are making a special celebration cake or you want to serve fluffy flaky biscuits that melt in your mouth, you won't care once you see the satisfied looks on the faces of those who eat your aerated flour creations. 


Baking Soda Versus Baking Powder:

Have you ever wondered why banging the oven door when you close it or running through the house could make a cake in the oven fall? It is because of how the leavening agents (leavening agents make baked goods rise), baking soda and baking power, work. They perform their magic by producing carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the dough as it rises. If you cause a strong vibration too early in the baking process, you can actually knock the carbon dioxide bubbles out of the dough and the cake will fall as a result.​ Now, what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? It can be confusing to a beginning baker as to why some recipes call for baking soda as a leavening agent while others call for baking powder. These are both white odorless powders and thus look practically the same. However, the difference in chemistry between the two is of utmost importance. Baking powder is a chemical called sodium bicarbonate. When it is heated in the oven, it produces the carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the dough and make the bread, cake, and pizza dough, biscuits, brownies, or cookies rise. However, there's a downside to this magic that must be dealt with. As sodium Bicarbonate heats up, it also produces sodium carbonate which unfortunately has a terrible metallic taste! However, this metallic taste can be neutralized by adding one or more acidic ingredients to the recipe. In baking, the most common acidic ingredients include cream of tartar, buttermilk (or any form of soured milk), yogurt, natural cocoa powder, vinegar, and lemon juice. So, if you have a recipe that has just the right amounts of baking soda and one or more of the acidic ingredients listed, you won't have a metallic flavor and the chemical reactions will create a beautiful rise and wonderful texture in your baking goods. However, if you don't put enough acid, your baked goods may have a very noticeable metallic taste that makes you stick out your tongue and go "yuck!" Baking powder is baking soda with a dry acidic substance like cream of tartar added in. Modern baking powder usually also contains a moisture reducer like corn starch but it didn't when it was first mass produced and stored in bottles instead of cans. It has a longer shelf life with the corn starch added in. It should be noted that if you have baking powder in a recipe, you don't absolutely need to have one or more acidic ingredients. For Example, you could use regular milk instead of acidic buttermilk. You could also leave out the cream of tartar and/or vinegar. Baking powder originally became very popular because the amount of acidity in soured milk was so unpredictable. It was somewhat hit or miss as to how well baked goods would rise. Using baking powder gave more consistency to how well baked goods would rise. It should be noted that some recipes, usually those containing some form of acid like buttermilk, actually call for both baking soda and baking powder. This has long been a mystery to many bakers, even the most experienced ones. However, the purpose of using both is usually to just give a little extra rise in recipes that use the combination of baking soda and acid as the primary leavening agents.


Natural Cocoa Powder Versus Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder:

American recipes that call for "cocoa Powder" are usually referring to natural cocoa powder. However, most European recipes and many American recipes use a special kind of cocoa powder called Dutch-processed cocoa. it may also be referred to as "alkali chocolate powder" or "chocolate powder processed with alkali." Beginning bakers often think they can simply substitute one for the other but the chemistry between them is so different that a recipe can be ruined by doing so. Natural cocoa powder, produced by finely grinding roasted cocoa beans and removing about half the fat, is quite acidic. In recipes, it is often paired with baking soda as the leavening agent. In these cases, the cocoa powder itself serves as the acidic ingredient that counterbalances the metallic taste of the sodium carbonate during baking (see section above). However, in Dutch-processed cocoa powder, the acidity of the cocoa is removed by washing it in a potassium solution. This Dutching process mellows out the taste of the cocoa, completely removing any bitterness, and makes the cocoa powder much darker. If it is strongly Dutched, it is sometimes referred to as "black cocoa powder." However, Dutch-processed cocoa powder should not be confused with the term "dark chocolate" because the two have no relationship. "Dark chocolate" refers to a chocolate product with a very high percentage of cocoa solids (usually thirty-five percent or higher) relative to other ingredients like sugar and milk, not whether or not it the cocoa solids have been Dutched. The process of Dutching chocolate also make the resulting powder easier to emulsify in liquids. Did you know that pure chocolate has approximately eight times more types of healthy antioxidants than strawberries? Antioxidants destroy free radicals that damage the cardiovascular system and are largely responsible for the process of aging. Because of the high concentration and variety of antioxidants found in chocolate, moderate amounts of chocolate significantly lowers blood pressure, lowers bad cholesterol, and improves cognitive ability. Moreover, chocolate is one of the best sources for the flavonoid antioxidant called epicatechin. This flavonoid mimics insulin and, therefore, lowers blood sugar. Diabetics and others greatly benefit from the high levels of epicatechin and other antioxidants in the cocoa bean. However, the dutching process of cocoa powder destroys these healthy antioxidants! Studies have shown that even a light dutching process destroys sixty percent of the antioxidants of the cocoa bean. Heavy dutching destroys ninety percent. Therefore, if you want to retain the healthy benefits of chocolate, it would be better to bake with natural cocoa powder that Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Chocolate available here.


Notes About Buttermilk And Fresh Churned Butter In Baking:

Did you know that back in the 1800's what the pioneers referred to as "buttermilk" was actually butterless milk? It was the milk left over after churning milk into butter so most of the butter had actually been removed from the resulting liquid. Since older milk was usually used for churning, this butterless milk was also slightly sour-tasting due to the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria multiplying in the slightly older milk. Lactobacillus bacteria produce lactic acid as a byproduct and this is what made old-fashioned buttermilk acidic and what made the butterless milk proteins curdle. This thick heavenly liquid was the source of acid in old-fashioned buttermilk biscuit recipes that used baking soda as the leavening agent. However, the "buttermilk" we buy in the store today is actually very different. Most milk today is pasteurized, i.e. heated to a very high temperature to kill the pathogenic bacteria so prevalent on large commercial dairies today. However, pasteurization also kills the dozens of good lactobacillus species that naturally occur in clean organic milk from grass fed, i.e. pasture fed, cows. So, in order to make acidic "buttermilk" from modern pasteurized milk, good bacteria must be added back into the pasteurized milk in order to culture it and turn it acidic. However, instead of dozens of good lactobacillus species being added back in, food manufacturers usually only add two to five species. Keep in mind that "soured" milk before pasteurization did not mean spoiled milk like it does with pasteurized milk. While it had a sour taste, it was not spoiled in a sense that it had too many pathogenic bacteria to drink. Pathogenic bacteria in raw milk are kept at bay by the presence of dozens of good lactobacillus species. with the good bacteria killed in pasteurized milk, when milk starts to go bad, it is the few remaining bad bacteria that start to multiply. this is why we don't drink "soured" milk today unless we buy specially cultured buttermilk in the store. Soured pasteurized milk is spoiled milk. The modern form of cultured pasteurized milk, i.e. what is sold as "buttermilk" today, does not taste as good in baked goods nor does it have the same ability to work with baking soda tom give true old-fashioned biscuits their amazing fluffy texture. Therefore, if you want to make truly terrific buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk cornbread, buttermilk pancakes, or other "quick breads" (no kneading or rising required), you will need to find a source of high quality raw milk. To do so, talk with your local natural food stores and/or look for organic farms in your region that will sell you some raw milk. Once this milk starts to turn, you can use it to make some of the most delicious quick breads you have ever tasted. You can also churn your own butter to use in your baking. Cakes and brownies made with fresh churned butter made from fresh organic raw milk are so good they will inspire the musically gifted to write songs praising their virtues.


Pay Close Attention To Commas In Recipes:

Reading a recipe can be trickier than you may think! In fact, many a baking disaster has occured by misreading a recipe. In particular, commas can completely change the meaning of a recipe. If a comma is used on an ingredient line, this means to first measure the ingredient and then do what comes after the comma. 

Consider the following example:

#1.1 cup sifted flour

versus

#2.1 cup flour, sifted

In the first example, the baker should first sift the flour and then measure out a cup of this sifted flour. However, in the second example the baker should first measure out a cup of flour and then sift the flour. At this point, you may be scratching your head and asking, "Why does it matter?" It matters, and matters a lot, because there will be far less flour in the first example than in the second example. Once you sift the flour, this adds air and volume to the flour. Therefore, a cup of sifted flour will have less weight and less flour that a cup of non-sifted flour. In fact, while a cup of sifted flour weighs about 112 grams on the average (it will vary a bit depending on how much air has been added), a cup of non-sifted flour weighs about 140 grams (it will vary a bit depending on how densely packed it is). You may notice that many baking recipes now list dry ingredients in grams, not just volume. This is because you can be much more accurate in the amounts you use if you weigh the dry ingredients. For this reason, if you are serious about baking, you may want to invest in a good kitchen scale. 


Final Notes:

Baking is a joy in many ways. You get to eat the fruits of your labor and share them with others you love. You get to control the exact ingredients inn the baked goods you eat and serve yo your family and friends. This allows you to serve delicious food but keep it healthy at the same time. For example, there is no reason to add trans fat to a recipe! You can use natural cocoa powder instead of Dutch-processed cocoa powder. You also get to experiment with different recipes and make slight modifications to recipes you already have to make them even better. Finally, no matter how much you learn about baking there's always something new to learn, a new way to hone your baking skills even more. Here's one more precious nugget of information. If you are using fresh herbs like mint. sage. or chives in your baked goods, try rubbing them into the sugar to release their essential oils and then mixing them into your creamed butter. Fat is a fantastic flavor carrier and it will infuse the flavor of the essential oils throughout your baked goodies. You can do the same with fresh ground spices like cardamom, vanilla bean, and cinnamon.

Enjoy Your Baking! 

 



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